A Picture-Perfect Outing in Itako City, Ibaraki Prefecture
I’m no stranger to Ibaraki Prefecture; yet, despite my frequent visits, there’s little that I have seen outside of the northern coastal areas of Hitachi and Hitachinaka. But, my most recent adventure was a mommy-daughter affair that took us on a picture-perfect outing in Itako City, Ibaraki Prefecture.
DISCLOSURE: A Picture-Perfect Outing in Itako City, Ibaraki Prefecture was arranged by Itako City.
About Itako City
One of the three cities on the Chiba-Ibaraki waterfront region (水郷 | suigo), Itako is a quaint historical town steeped in Japanese traditions. Itako City is only 70 minutes away from Tokyo, making it an ideal getaway for a Tokyo day trip or weekend excursion.
Itako City — What To See
Suigo Itako Iris Garden
Our first stop in Itako City was Suigo Itako Iris Garden.
More than 1 million vibrant violet, lavender, and ivory hued iris bulbs bloom during the Suigo Itako Ayame Festival from late May to late June*.
Irises are a symbol of Japan’s warrior elite, the samurai, and Boys’ Day. Their thin, elegantly curved leaves resemble the blade of a samurai’s sword and an alternate reading of ayame (菖蒲) is shobu, which means “victory or defeat.”
*This year, the festival will run from Friday May 22 to Sunday, June 21.
Although the irises were not in bloom, I thoroughly enjoyed the serene surroundings and a ride on a ro, or a Japanese sculling oar boat.
This type of boat was the primary means of transportation in the Suigo district before the introduction of paved roads during the turn of the 20th century.
These boats are also known as yomeiri bune, bride’s boats that took a newly married woman to her husband’s place of residence.
The leisurely boat ride is a scenic journey on the rolling Maekawa River. It passes under several bridges, including the beautifully curved Makomo Bridge.
Miss M is obsessed with heights — “Takai takai!” she exclaims whenever she sees a Ferris wheel or tall bridge. I had no choice but to indulge her with a view overlooking the Maekawa River. In the end, it was worth it!
Lapoppo Namegata Farmer’s Village
Lapoppo Namegata Farmer’s Village is a “farming experience theme park” that uses all 5 senses to connect people and nature.
Namegata City converted one of its former elementary schools into a spacious village that sits on an area of land as large as Tokyo Dome.
The school building and campus remains intact, preserving the school feel. In fact, Miss M kept trying to take off her shoes because she was “in school.” #asiankids
The Farmer’s Marche on the first floor sells an incredible variety of satsuma snacks and sweets.
Fun Fact 1: Kagoshima may be Japan’s number one producer of sweet potatoes, but those are primarily for shochu. It’s actually Ibaraki prefecture that grows a majority of the potatoes that you’ll find in supermarkets and yakiimo trucks across Japan.
Fun Fact 2: Trailing behind Ibaraki in sweet potato production is Chiba Prefecture. Sweet potato digging (imohori) is a very popular activity in the fall for daycare and kindergarten kids across Japan. Read about my Chiba kindergarten imohori adventures here.
The humble but hearty and healthy sweet potato, or satsuma, is the official mascot of this agricultural theme park.
There’s literally a museum (The Yakiimo Museum) dedicated to the 400 year history of the sweet potato and its significant impact on Japanese cuisine and culture.
The museum makes use of the classrooms to house the highly detailed exhibits:
Hakucho no Sato (Village of the Swans)
We followed up our visit to Lapoppo Namegata Farmer’s Village with a drive to Kitaura Lake to see Hakucho no Sato.
While we did not see any swans, there was no room for disappointment — nor was there hardly any room on the shore!
Every year between late November to early March, 100 kinds of waterfowl, including the majestic swan, gather on the tranquil surface of this vast lake.
Miss M was actually napping after all the fun she had at Lapoppo Namegata Farmer’s Village, but I just had to wake her up. And, she loved every moment of it… until I took her out of her baby carrier. I guess the swarm was a bit too overwhelming for her!
If you’re a fan of the comedy show Schitt’s Creek, you’re probably familiar with Rose family matriarch and veteran actress Moira, star of the low-budget horror movie, “The Crows Have Eyes 3.”
Well, Hakucho no Sato is exactly how I picture the final scene of “The Crows Have Eyes 3”… if these waterfowl were crows.
Where to Eat
Farm to the Table
Lunch at Farm to the Table (inside Lapoppo Namegata Farmer’s Village) is a must! All the ingredients come directly from local farmers.
I can’t get enough of creative Japanese pizza toppings, plus I am a fan of Japanese seasonal ingredients. So, this apple and sweet potato pizza was a perfect match for me.
I’d love to see how Farm to Table pairs the sweet potato in the springtime! (Fall gets a hard pass from me because I just know it’s something like sweet potato with 7 different types of mushrooms…)
And, here’s the kid’s meal:
After lunch, we had playtime on the school grounds:
Dinner was at an intimate Japanese restaurant called Shinya. My course dinner was standard traditional fare consisting of fresh sashimi, sushi, and tempura.
But, the highlight of dinner at Shinya was not my dinner, but rather this elaborate and tasty kids’ meal:
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Itako City — Where To Stay
Minutes away from Suigo Itako Iris Garden and JR Itako Station is Isoyama Tei, our accommodation for the duration of our stay in Itako City.
Isoyama Tei is a 120 year old historic property that is now a ryokan. It’s an ideal place to experience an authentic Japanese home, garden, and bath.
What I loved about Isoyama Tei was that it reminded me so much of overnights stays and holidays with my in-laws. Nearly everything at Isoyama Tei, right down to the Hitachi and Zojirushi kitchen appliances, was exactly the same. All that was missing was the sounds of the ocean waves.
Though our stay was short, we instantly felt at home. Miss Kaiju had plenty of room to run around, and I didn’t worry much because of the tamami flooring. (Although I was terrified that she’d poke a hole in the shoji doors like she did at her grandparents’ place.)
Isoyama Tei also operates as a cafe when there are no guests. It serves freshly made matcha and Japanese confectioneries.
Isoyama Tei and its surroundings (the Tsugaru Domain building and storehouse) are visible from the ro boat cruise on the Maekawa River.
During our stay in Itako City, the storehouse was decorated for Hina Matsuri, the Girls’ Day celebration that takes place yearly on March 3.
Beyond Itako City – Kashima Shrine
If you can’t get enough of Japanese history and mythology, you certainly can’t pass up the opportunity to explore the grounds of Kashima Shrine. It’s just 10 minutes away by train from JR Itako Station.
One of the oldest Shinto shrines in Eastern Japan (founded in 60 B.C.), this shrine is attracts those seeking strength and victory as well as spiritual purity.
The deity enshrined here is responsible for subduing a giant catfish that causes earthquakes.
Inside Kashima Shrine is a deer park. Unfortunately, you can not touch or feed them, but it’s all for the best because deer are the messengers of the gods!
Impressions of Itako City
Suitable for day trips from Tokyo and low-key weekend excursions, Itako City in Ibaraki Prefecture is a quaint historic town worth exploring to deepen one’s interest in Japanese culture and interests.
The sights of Itako City (and nearby Namegata and Kashima cities) are just 70 minutes away from Tokyo! Express highway buses run every ten minutes from the bus terminal at Tokyo Station Yaesu South Exit. JR Itako on the Kashima Line is the nearest train station to Itako City.
Itako City is also accessible by car. In fact, it only takes 20 minutes from Narita Airport via the Kanto Expressway! Narita Airport rental car information here.
Visit https://visititako.com/ for more information.